Izabela Kalinowska

Associate Professor
Stony Brook University

Russian Heritage Cinema and the Polish Question

One of the crucial aspects of Russia’s cultural positioning has always been its relationship with its internal and external others. While critical literature examining representations of national and ethnic difference in Soviet and Russian cinema has grown significantly in recent years, the critics’ attention has been focused on ways in which Russian filmmakers have defined/redefined the country’s wartime enemies (Germans, Finns, Chechens) [1]. I look at two films that form the core of new Russian heritage cinema, Vladimir Khotinenko’s 1612 (2007) and Vladimir Bortko’s Taras Bul’ba (2009), in order to examine the contours of a new ideology that has sought to fill the cultural void that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both films recast Poland and the Poles as the main adversarial force against which a “true” Russian value system comes to life. It has to be noted that, while representative of a distinct cultural and ideological tendency that emerged in the first decade of the 21st century, the two heritage films do not monopolize Russian attitudes towards Poland during the same time. A whole range of attitudes towards otherness, including Polishness, has been present within contemporary Russian culture. In order to provide an indication of the varying approaches to cultural difference, I begin my analysis by looking at a picture that appears to represent the opposite end of the spectrum. The critically acclaimed Oxygen (Kislorod, 2009) directed by Ivan Vyrypaev will thereby provide a countercultural context for the highly commercialized, mainstream productions that are in the center of my analysis of the Russian heritage phenomenon.

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